Tools for Translation: English Language Learners Code in Two Languages

Wednesday, July 29th 2020, 9:14:04 am

In JoAnn Westhall’s fifth grade classroom at P.S. 31Q in Bayside, Queens, all students, including English Language Learners, get the exact same lesson at the exact same time. Using the Google Translate app on iPads, JoAnn’s ELLs can read lesson instructions in their native language, eliminating English fluency as an obstacle to comprehending computer science. JoAnn also encourages students with different levels of English fluency and a shared native language to help each other. Watch as her students learn the shared language of computer science together, and pick up new vocabulary in other spoken languages.


You can try out Google Translate or other translation technologies to include ELL students in your CS classroom, particularly in classes that emphasize group work, exploration, and hands-on activities.  



  • If using Google Translate, make sure the lesson you plan to teach is in a book or typed onto a sheet of paper. Install Google Translate on iPads in your classroom so students can hover the tablets over the printed lesson. Pair students with the same native languages together if you have a shortage of devices.
  • If you have only one tablet or a personal device, you can use the device to translate the lesson into all necessary languages prior to class, then print out the translated instructions to distribute to students. Make sure these students still have the English instructions so they can compare the texts.
  • Set up your classroom so that you and all your students can interact with each other. Make sure you can see all your students’ monitors, and try creating an area where students can move to when they want to discuss a challenge with you or with another student. Says JoAnn, “An immersive approach is supported by flexible seating that encourages communication and risk-taking.” 


  • During activity time, encourage students to team up with others who have knowledge of a shared foreign language even if they’re at different levels of English fluency. JoAnn has found this helps with more than just the CS lesson: Each student learns more about both English and the other language.



  • Inspire students to take risks by taking a risk yourself. Pair students with different English language skills together to work on an exploratory CS assignment and encourage them to help each other. Says JoAnn, “With the classroom community established as a safe place to take risks, your student will be more likely to make attempts at conversational English.”


  • In the course of a CS assignment, encourage students to express themselves using the language they speak at home.


  • Instruct more advanced CS students to critique or troubleshoot each other’s work, using translation apps to navigate any language barriers.  


  • In long-term group projects, encourage ELLs to think of tools and ideas that may stem from their personal experiences, and to build on any unique perspective they bring to your classroom.  


  • Try to use tools that solve the immediate problem. If JoAnn doesn’t have a translator available, she may rely on Vocre, a text-to-voice application.
  • Get visual. JoAnn posts strong visual cues on her classroom walls. “CS word walls and posters all have images embedded that support vocabulary acquisition,” she says. For more tips on how to decorate classroom walls, check out Alana Robinson’s class.


  • Google Translate is free and translates 103 languages.
  • HP Reveal is a free app that can make word walls interactive: “Students can hover an iPad over a word or picture and it will trigger a video that explains the word,” says JoAnn.
  • Google Classroom can translate digital resources asynchronously for work outside of class time. 

Resource content by JoAnn Westhall, with the assistance of the CS4All team. Video by Rook Productions. Consultation by Tythe Design and Tiny Panther. Published by CS4All.